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On April 20, 1999, a devastating school shooting took place at Columbine High School, Colorado. Fifteen people, including the perpetrators, were killed. The attack was well-organized and complicated and involved the use of various kinds of guns and explosives that were embedded throughout the high school. The two young gunmen, seventeen-year-old Dylan Klebold and eighteen-year-old Eric Harris, committed suicide following the assault. It was suggested that mental health problems and a history of bullying had motivated the attack (FBI, 2018).
The attack lasted less than an hour, starting at 11:19 am and finishing with the perpetrators’ suicide at 12:08 pm. Police were at the scene just minutes after the first shots were fired, but it took the SWAT team 47 minutes to enter the school and the authorities five hours to declare the school safe (Nock, 2014, p. 434).
The Young Perpetrators
A year before Klebold and Harris became household names as the Columbine gunmen, they were arrested for theft and sentenced to a juvenile diversion program (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 2002). In addition, just a few months before the shooting, the parents of a Columbine High School student filed a report with the Sheriff’s Office stating that Harris had threatened to kill their son and had posted on the internet that he wanted to kill people. Tragically, their son would be killed in the Columbine shooting (Toppo, 2009).
Klebold and Harris acquired their guns from Mark Manes, who was subsequently sentenced to six years’ imprisonment (Simpson, 1999).
Numerous explanations have been posited for why these teens would commit mass murder. It was argued that Klebold and Harris had been bullied at Columbine High School. Analysis by the US Secret Service of thirty-seven school shootings finds that being bullied inspired two-thirds of the attacks. It is accepted that bullying took place at Columbine High School, and Klebold and Harris’s violent attack may have been retaliation for the abuse they had suffered. However, in his book Columbine, author David Cullen argues that the perpetrators had not been the victims of bullying. In fact, it was they who bullied others (Cullen, 2010).
Other Culprits: Poor Mental Health, Video Games, and Goth Culture
Beyond bullying, several other reasons for the attacked have been proposed. Prominent among these are mental health issues. At the time of the attack, Klebold and Harris were on anti-depressants and were believed to be contemplating suicide. They had discussed killing others and themselves (Brian Lickel, 2003).
People were also quick to blame the perpetrators’ behavior on their love of video games. Klebold and Harris were avid players of violent video games and they had even designed a game depicting a school shooting for a school project.
Finally, it has been argued that goth music and culture inspired the Columbine shooting. When they committed the attack, Klebold and Harris were dressed in goth outfits, including Marilyn Manson shirts and make-up. Marilyn Manson is known for his anti-establishment music, some of which discusses death and suicide. His stage name is a combination of starlet Marilyn Monroe and cult leader Charles Manson.
The Consequences of Columbine
The mass shooting at Columbine changed schools in the US forever. Schools implement zero-tolerance policies regarding harassment and bullying, and they rigidly enforce gun control. Also, SWAT teams now regularly train for active shooter situations in schools and universities (Glenn W. Muschert, 2010).
Brian Lickel, T. S. (2003). A Case of Collective Responsibility: Who Else Was to Blame for the Columbine High School Shootings? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 194-204.
Cullen, D. (2010). Columbine. Twelve.
FBI. (2018, March 1). Columbine High School. Retrieved from FBI.gov
Glenn W. Muschert, A. A. (2010). The columbine effect and school antiviolence policy. Social Problems and Public Policy, 117 – 148.
Nock, M. K. (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Suicide and Self-injury.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. (2002, November 6). District attorney releases Columbine gunman’s juvenile records.
Simpson, H. P. (1999, November 13). Judge gives Manes 6 years. Retrieved from Denver Post
Toppo, G. (2009, April 13). 10 years later, the real story behind Columbine. Retrieved from USA TODAY
- The Inside Story of Columbine: Lies. Coverups. Ballistics. Lessons
- No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine High School
- Comprehending Columbine
- A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
- Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters